Every summer I buy the same pair of Nike flip flops: dense memory foam soles with neoprene uppers. A pair lasts me about a year, which isn’t bad, considering Texas weather allows me to wear them almost year-round, only changing for exercise or dressier occasions. After I shed the running shoes or kick off the heels, I slip right back into my flops, which have molded themselves to my feet after just a few months.
My love for these flip flops started years ago, when early in my marriage I wore my husband’s pair around our apartment. Suffering from plantar fasciitis in both feet, walking usually felt like stepping on upturned railroad spikes. The pain was unbearable, yet when I wore his flops, several sizes larger than my own feet, my sore heels aligned perfectly with the raised arch of his shoe, and the gentle pressure eased the pain. I felt like I was walking on clouds. A cortisone shot to the heel eventually alleviated the knotted up tissue in my feet, but I’ve faithfully bought my own pair of the same Nikes ever since.
Then they had to go and change things.
As I scanned the shelves for my favorite shoes this summer, I could only find an upgraded version. The old style was nowhere to be found. The model name was the same, but with the word “ultra” tacked on. Can a flip flop be “ultra?” There are a lot of situations in which having something labeled as “ultra” may be useful or even fun. I like my pizza ultra cheesy and my Game of Thrones ultra dragon-y. But my flip flops? If there was anything ultra I needed in these shoes, it was ultra comfort, and slipping my feet into a pair, I already had my doubts.
Instead of the familiar dense foam I’d loved for years, the soles were a firm rubber material with raised horizontal ridges, reminding me of the Adidas soccer slides from the 90s. The small bumps on the Adidas insoles were meant to provide comfort after a long day of running in cleats, but I can tell you after wearing them on a hike through the woods in high school (don’t ask), the bottoms of my feet ached for days. There’s a bigger story there about proper footwear choices for outdoor activities, but that pain was what I was thinking about when I stood in the middle of the shoe section, strumming my fingers across the rubber texture and weighing my options.
Should I buy the shoes with the new formula, because how much could they have truly changed? After so many years, I trusted the name and the style to not lead me astray, didn’t I?
Or should I buy something comparable? I’d been down that road before. One year when I was paying for diapers for three kids, I was too cheap to fork over the $20 for my beloved Nikes. I bought a pair of inexpensive, yet cute flops for $8, and it took me a full week halfway through the summer to realize that the stench following me around was my own shoes. My Nikes would never betray me like that. Another year I cheated on my Nikes with a pair of Sanuks, the shoes that are made from yoga mat material. A good brand, the Sanuks were indeed cushy (I have a pair of Sanuk slip ons that I love more than a person should realistically love a pair of olive-colored boat shoes), but the uppers didn’t cradle my feet, an important, yet overlooked feature of flip flops. I don’t have the time or the balancing skills for my feet to be sliding around in my shoes, especially at the pool or splash pad or other random wet places I take my children. My flip flops need to stay put.*
My third option was to give up altogether and go home with the trusty, yet thinned out pair I’d been wearing for two years. But my delicate feet aren’t meant for the elements. I needed more sole protection. So I bought the “ultra” pair. And here I am writing a 900 word blog post about them.
This could be a euphemism for embracing change, or at the very least accepting it. “Change is inevitable,” they say. Our children grow older, our parents grow older, and Sir Ian McKellen grows even older but still plays a boss Magneto in the X-Men franchise. We can’t change these things. And at this point in time (yet!), I won’t suddenly convince Nike to go back to their previous flip flop formula. (I may look on eBay to see if someone is hawking a pair of the old style, but I won’t buy them.)(Probably.)(Depends on the price.)
But for now change just kinda sucks. My feet hurt, and not from the plantar fasciitis I’ve been long rid of. They hurt because someone’s idea of memory foam is very different from the one that’s graced my feet for the past 12 years or so (give or take my aforementioned cheapness and cheating). It’s not about my discomfort with something new; it’s about my discomfort in these damn sandals.
*My one criticism of my favorite Nike flip flops does indeed have to do with sliding. While the shoes always stayed put on my feet, they were downright dangerous if they came in contact with pavement markings on concrete. One wrong step onto parking lot painted stripes, and my feet would slip right out from under me. I took a (painful) knee in a parking lot one wet morning, banging my kneecap, tweaking my back, and bruising my dignity. My only complaint.